The fine city of Norwich.

A city I never thought I would visit, and love.

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Some of the best things in life come when you least expect it. The same goes for travelling. Sometimes some of the best places may not be listed on a Lonely Planet guide – you just happen to chance upon it while being lost on your way to somewhere and voila! you couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who would care to listen.

But if I keep relying on that philosophy in life, I would never have discovered Norwich, a city in Norfolk, of which one travel journalist has labeled to be “on the way to nowhere”.

It sounds harsh, but there is some truth to it. Norwich is located in East Anglia, that little bump in the east of England. It is not easily accessible from any major cities, and there is nothing but barren land between London and the place. Moreover, train prices in Norfolk are generally more expensive than the rest of the kingdom, which only further discouraged people from visiting the place.

So my decision to visit Norwich had to be completely deliberate (there is no other way I would have ended up there otherwise) although it did take me almost a year to board that Greater Anglia train from Liverpool Street.

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The Greater Anglia train, with a cheeky Telegraph advertisement.

I never doubted that Norwich was going to be lovely, but the comments by some people about the place kind of got to me…

“What is there in Norwich?“, “Why would you go there?”, “I mean Norwich is lovely, but why?” and a few more things along the line.

… that when I got off the train, I was wary and wanted to take the next train back. I was even hiding behind a pillar at the station, trying to hide from my host but he somehow still managed to find me.

And it was a good thing he did, since I proceeded to have one of the best weekends I have had in a long time.

I fell in love with the city right at the first stop, an area at the outskirt of the Mousehold Heath. It was a hill overlooking the whole of Norwich, and I took to calling it the “Prison Hill” since it was located right across the street from the HM Prison Norwich.

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The city of Norwich.
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The said prison.

It was wise of him to bring me here since I love hills with a view.

Apart from the stunning view, there is something else to be said about the prison: a lovely cafe called Cafe Britannia located at the former Britannia Barracks, which is now part of the prison. It served affordable brunch (and yummy-looking desserts) that I wished I got to eat more. But the most amazing thing about the cafe (apart from its cosy atmosphere and good food) was that they employ offenders. I couldn’t remember a much better feeling than eating a cheese scone and drinking tea with a great company while contributing to a good cause.

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A rebellious day trip to Oxford.

In the name of getting inspiration for our thesis, or so we claimed.

“You are running short of time.”

“I’ve got a plan.”

“Serla, let me repeat this once again, you are running short of time.”

I was two-and-a-half weeks away from my thesis deadline, and I was slightly behind in my progress. Sitting in my supervisor’s office, I was surprisingly calm for someone who only had 2,000 out of the 12,000-word requirement that I was supposed to churn out to graduate with my Master’s degree.

As for my supervisor, he was freaking out.

The good man, bless him, was so convinced that I would become the first student he supervise to fail the Master’s thesis. Yet, no matter what he said to jolt me awake, he simply couldn’t invoke that sense of urgency that he so hoped to see in me.

“Why don’t you tell me what your plan is for the coming week then?” he said.

“Well, I’ll be working at my part-time job three full days next week and…” I stopped as I watched his eyes widen in horror. “And I assure you I’ll have 6,000 words ready the next time I see you,” I blurted out quickly.

What I had wanted to say was that apart from my three days of work, I had also planned a trip to Oxford on that coming Saturday. But I was pretty sure if I had told him that, he might have disowned me as his student right on the spot, so I decided that it was best if he was kept in the dark about it.

I don’t dispute that travelling while you have a MAJOR deadline looming is irresponsible, but it was necessary. Because you see, my dear readers, thesis writing can be such a chore. After several weeks of sitting in front of the computer, words simply couldn’t flow anymore, and wouldn’t it be even more irresponsible had I done nothing to get rid of the writer’s block?

That was why my friend C and I decided to spice things up a little. What started out as a mission to try out all the different libraries in London turned into something slightly more ambitious. We decided that sticking to one city was not enough and we needed to try out libraries outside London as well.

We picked Oxford for several reasons. First, because even we were realistic and we knew that going all the way to Edinburgh wasn’t an option. Second, my friend C had not been to Oxford previously and I couldn’t let her leave the country without seeing the place. And third, because Oxford is full of intelligent people, we were hoping some of their brain cells might rub off on us – we clearly needed all the help we could get.

Plus, come to think of it, it wasn’t as if we would be spending so much more time getting to a library in Oxford. The journey from Paddington took just over an hour. On a bad day in London, your commute could take as long.

Or so we thought.

When we got off the train, we realised immediately things wouldn’t be as simple as we had predicted.

oxford1First of all, we did not know what the University’s main library was called. Whenever I googled “Libraries in Oxford University” several options popped up, and I couldn’t possibly visit every single one to see which one was meant for us?

Luckily, we figured out pretty quickly that it was the Bodleian Library. However, a second problem immediately occurred to us – we did not actually know whether students from other universities were allowed to use the facility. We had just assumed it was open to all students from other universities.

Once again, we got lucky. After cajoling the librarian, we were allowed to make a one-day pass to use the facility.

These unexpected logistical problems had certainly set us back by an hour or so. By the time we were done getting ourselves admitted to Oxford University for a day, it was time for lunch.

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The Singapore Night Festival 2017.

I just gave myself a new project.

Tentatively it’s being called Project I-should-stop-sulking-just-because-I’m-not-in-London. Sometimes I also refer to it as Project Self-reminder-that-Singapore-is-actually-an-awesome-place. (If anyone can come up with a better name, I welcome any suggestions).

Perhaps I also secretly/not-so-secretly want to lure some people into visiting me from the other side of the world. Hence, I have decided that I will blog more about my life in Singapore and what this tiny island has to offer.

(Also, I have a spare bedroom at my flat at the moment, and the public transportation here is a quarter of the price in Denmark, the UK and the US. AND, we have some awesome food in this side of the world. Practically a dream for travellers on a budget. Just saying.)

Ahem, but I digress.

When I returned to Singapore after my two-year stint all over the place, I was swept by a weird sensation of being back at a place that is both familiar and strange. I felt disoriented – small things that I had taken for granted would simply work did not. My transportation card that had never failed me for the past seven years didn’t work because it had expired. My mobile phone data did not work properly. I forgot that thunderstorms are permanently imminent and did not have my umbrella with me on my first night – I got caught in the rain as I was stepping out of my flat for dinner. I behaved like an awkward tourist while trying to order some food. And I got some stares when I ate by myself – I forgot how much of a taboo it is here to be seen having a meal on your own in public.

But as time goes on, I’m slowly tracing my old steps and a sense of familiarity starts to take over. After all, I still live in the same flat, and I am working in the same business district as I was before I left. It is taking a while but at least I can feel some progress in fitting back in.

The first time I felt that I found some of my footing was when I went to the Singapore Night Festival with these two friends who have not changed a single bit since I first knew them a few years ago.

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The Singapore Night Festival dates back a decade to the time when I was studying for my Bachelor’s in SMU. Being a student at a university with a campus smacked right at the city centre meant that we were at the heart of the festival that lit up the whole Bras Basah area. Visiting the festival also brought back memories from my Singapore university days which had ended, ahem, seven years ago.

The festival’s flagship display has always been the light show at the facade of the National Museum. This year’s performance boasted a fascinating 3D effect that certainly felt a notch above the previous editions’.

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Primrose Hill Market, London.

I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend who went backpacking around South East Asia last year. When I spoke to her, I felt a familiar feeling of shame creeping into me, the same one that always appeared whenever I spoke to travellers like her.

She, after a few weeks in my side of the world, has visited more places than I have the twenty six years I was living in the region.

Usually, a few minutes into the conversation, the name Cambodia would come up and I would have to reluctantly admit that I haven’t stepped on that country’s soil even once.

“I have been to Myanmar though,” I normally added in a bid to present myself as a more appreciative South East Asian.

I attribute this shameful phenomenon to what I call proximity ungratefulness. When a place is so close to where you live, you will naturally find it less exciting and will not go out of your way to visit.

I am thus careful of not letting the same thing happen to me here in London. I try to appreciate things around me, even stuff that is within walking distance from my flat.

One of my most recent finds was the Primrose Hill Market.

Primrose Hill is world-famous, and I have been there countless times. It has a beautiful unobstructed view of London and is equally charming during the day and night.

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But today I’m not here to talk about the Hill. I’m here for something that happens at the foot of the hill every Saturday, unbeknownst to many: the Primrose Hill Market.

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Hackney City Farm, London.

At the start of this year I ambitiously declared that I have found a magical way to slow down the time.

Yet 2017 has simply been ramming itself like a charging bull on steroid, and I’m at loss once again on how to make the time stop. With a blink of an eye, it is already March. The weather got a lot warmer, the daylight stayed for a couple of minutes longer each day, and flowers start to blossom; spring is just around the corner.

It is strange to think that just a couple of weeks ago I was trying to ease back into the chilly weather in London, having spent December and January back home in the tropics. And on one of the coldest days of February, we visited the Hackney City Farm.

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Being surrounded by friends who grew up close to the nature, I have often behaved like an ignorant city girl in comparison. I remember asking someone, to both his bemusement and amusement, whether the flowers on the flowerbed we walked past were real (they clearly were).

Don’t get me wrong; I love the nature. I really do (except for those crawling insects that come with the nature in the tropics, and maybe snakes. And a couple more weird looking animals). And I have a weakness for cows – I think they are one of the cutest creatures alive. I am just never exposed to them very much.

So imagine my excitement when my friend told me about Hackney City Farm, which was set up for people like me: so I don’t have to drive (not that I can) for hours to see cows and horses and donkeys, and I get to immerse myself in the earthy smell of manure right at the heart of the city.

We agreed to meet right around lunch time so our first stop was brunch at Cafe Frizzante, which was located inside the complex. It being located inside the farm added a nice touch to the location.

It sounds barbaric now that I think about it, but the first animals that we encountered at the farm were this.

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The bacon and sausage that were once pigs.

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Back in Copenhagen, again.

There is nothing quite like your first love (in Europe).

Everyone remembers their first love.

It probably happened a long time ago.

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This was taken 8 years ago in 2009, when I was probably 8 kg lighter.

For some, it might have been just a short-lived crush. But for many, it lasted for a few years.

Because for some reason, you kept coming back for more…

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2010

And more…

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2012
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2013
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2014

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The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London.

A beautiful, non-touristy art gallery at the heart of the scarily touristy Oxford Street.

When a Londoner friend once told me that he would avoid Oxford Street at all cost, I remember looking at him slightly perplexed.

I was a tourist then, and while I wouldn’t describe Oxford Street as my favourite place in London, I didn’t detest it. After all, the area is practically a one-stop shop/street of every brand imaginable. Whenever I travelled to London, I could delay all my shopping until the last minute (as I do with everything else in life) and just head there to buy everything that I don’t need and shop for souvenirs for friends.

But now that I have lived in the city for two months, I began to understand why Londoners have such negative sentiments towards Oxford Street. The place is always overcrowded, big brands seem to be haphazardly put next to each other and in between them tacky cafes try to rip you off with their substandard food – a tourist trap in short, which is why you can hardly find a single local person shopping there.

Perhaps it is some kind of a rite of passage for living in London, but I find myself disliking Oxford Street more with every visit (plus it always rained whenever I was there).

But in the midst of this chaos, there is a gem hidden just 5-minute walk away from the main street. At Manchester Square stood the Hertford House, a beautiful mansion which houses the national museum for the Wallace Collection, an art collection by the Wallace family.

The art collectors of the Wallace family consist of four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. I don’t mean this to be rude, but after visiting the museum, I concluded that art collectors are practically hoarders with a lot of money.

(I hoard things too, but I don’t have that much money. You should have seen the thrash that I accumulated when I was moving house.)

These five guys, for example, have accumulated a whole mansion of art, paintings, sculpture, china, armoury, arms and everything else you can think of that can be classified as art work. It was only when Richard Wallace had the sense to realise that their family’s collection could be a museum that he decided to work on leaving the collections to the Nation. The administrative process was so long that after he died, his widow Lady Wallace had to finish off the job and eventually made ‘the single biggest bequest of art treasures to a Nation.’

My friend and I visited the place spontaneously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was quiet, a stark contrast to the bustle and elbowing at Oxford Street. It was as if I was magically transported to a different era of civilisation, to the time when women’s fashion was about covering your body with as many layers as possible and there were literal knights in shining armour.

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Or your idea of a pet is a lion and you just casually trimming its claws while exposing your breast.

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